Thursday, 12 September 2013

Kars Doukhobor History Project Granted

A small grant to document Doukhobors in Kars, Turkey, was awarded to resident historian Vedat Akçayöz (Alchayoz), who for 15 years has advocated to protect, restore and display the heritage of Spiritual Christian sites and artifacts.

As Director of the Kars Culture and Arts Association, he is working on a Doukhobor video documentary, photo exhibit, book, and cultural centre-museum.

The government may provide space for a long-planned Russian culture center-museum in Kars to educate the public and welcome heritage explorers. Vedat hopes to preserve classic houses in the former Doukhobortsy Pokrova village (now Porsuklu) and the former Molokan and Prygun Blagodarnoye village (now Chakmak, joined with Chalkuvar). His grandmother was Prygun.

Vedat Akçayöz in the temporary museum, in his office in Kars, Turkey. The larger photos
were taken in Stavropol, Russia, of families and descendants who left Kars in 1962.

Vedat plans to present his first Doukhobor exhibit by the end of 2013 with photos and video showing the history from origins in Old Russia, relocation to the Caucasus and Kars, burning of guns in 1895, arrests and exiling to Siberia, why and how Tolstoy aided them, migration to Canada, and those remaining in Georgia.

His major problem is language. Nearly all the information is in languages foreign to him, and he has limited access to translators. Very little Russian sectarian history was published in the Turkish language.

In September Vedat was hosted in Gorelovka, Georgia, by Nikolay Sukarukov for 3 days, from 30 August to Sept 3, 2013. Though he previously visited Georgia Doukhobors 6 times, he did not understand much of their history until this year. So he returned (~200 km, 125 miles each way) to gather missing details, photos and video.

In October he is going to Azerbaijan to try to locate the 3rd burning of arms site. This is the first effort we know of to explore this historic Doukhobor site since Tarasoff failed to find the exact site in 1977.

An international joint effort was accomplished this Spring to orientate Vedat. In April, 2013 his son Alper Akçayöz, who speaks English, stopped in Los Angeles for one day, during his first 1-week vacation in the USA. He was met by historian Andrei Conovaloff from Arizona, whose grandparents on both sides were from Kars. They toured and photographed Los Angeles Spiritual Christian historic sites. Alper collected photos and video at a wedding of a congregation from Melikoy village, the large cemetery, and met descendants of Kars Armenian Pryguny from Karakala village who sang a psalom in Armenian.

Conovaloff presented 4-hours of condensed history about Kars Spiritual Christians, which was simultaneously translated to Turkish by Alper and recorded on video for his father. He included several suggestions from Koozma Tarasoff (Canada), and Joyce Keosababian-Bivin (Israel).

First, locate the 3 historic 1895 Doukhobor burning of arms sites, and showcase the Kars site as a historic landmark. Tarasoff says this is the single most important historic location in Kars province from which Vedat can begin to introduce Doukhobor history. The burning of arms impacted all Spiritual Christians in the Caucasus.

Second, identify the village of Karakala where persecuted Protestant Armenians joined Pryguny who resettled in Kars oblast from Russia in the 1880s. Keosababian-Bivin, born in Los Angeles, is a historian of Armenian Prygun descent who has been trying for decades to find her ancestral village. This month Vedat confirmed that an old photo matches the village nicknamed Merkezkarakale (central Karakale).

In Los Angeles, Pryguny helped launch the international Pentecostal and Evangelic Christian movements, which are similar to their faiths. Prygun immigrants attended the nearby Azusa Street Revival in 1906. In the 1920s, the Armenian Apostolic congregation fellowshipped with Subbotniki and hosted Aimee McPherson, while Russian Pryguny participated in her Foursquare ministry and radio show. In the 1950s, Karakala descendant Demos Shakarian hosted the first Oral Roberts crusades in California, and launched the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International. Several of celebrity Kim Kasrdashian's relatives, born in Karalaka, are buried in the old Prygun cemetery in East Los Angeles.

Vedat showed his first photo exhibit in 2008, then produced a video and appeared on local TV many times to promote his projects about Spiritual Christians. Last year he learned that the Turkish term malakanlar generally referred to all Spiritual Christian faith groups (molokan, prygun, dukh-i-zhiznik, dukhobortsy, subbotnik, etc.) not just Molokane.

This year Vedat realized he is a descendant of Spiritual Christian Pryguny, not Molokane, and has Dukh-i-zhiznik relatives in Russia and in Los Angeles, County, United States of America.

People in Turkey have mostly forgotten how many different faiths from Russia were in their territory during the Russian occupation (1877 - 1922), and that many descendants are Turkish citizens. Among the non-Orthodox Christian faiths resettled from Russia were:
  • Dukhobortsy (spirit-wrestlers), various divisions
  • Dukh-i-zhiznik faiths, founded in 1928 in Los Angeles and exported to Kars
  • Luidi Bozhe (God's People), various divisions
  • Molokane (milk-drinkers during fasts, Lent), one faith
  • Protestant Armenians who joined Pryguny
  • Protestant Germans from Russia, many faiths, Anabaptists
  • Pryguny (jumpers), various divisions
  • Subbotniki (Saturday people), various divisions
Though most foreigners from Russia were repatriated to the USSR by the 1960s, more than 1000 descendants of these forgotten faiths remain scattered throughout Turkey.

Doukhobor group in Vedat's office museum, Kars, Turkey, 2011. L to R: Ken Harshenin,
Eileen Kooznetsoff, Rose Ann Bartley (Hadikin), Natalie Stewart (Hadikin), Diane White
(Stoochnoff), Walter Stoochnoff, (hand, leg shown), and Fred Kooznetsoff.

In 2009 Vedat invited heritage explorers, and in 2011 he invited more university students to get involved in research.

So far 5 groups of Canadian Doukhobors have explored their Karakhanskiye settlements in Kars province and 4 reported in Iskra.
When Vedat first made contact with Spiritual Christian historians in the West (Tarasoff, Kalmakoff, Conovaloff), he hoped sponsors would bring him to North America to collect data. Instead, heritage explorers came to him.

Now he says: ‘Who knows, maybe I can show my Doukhobor exhibit in Canada. Of course, this is a dream. Why not? Martin Luther King says to us: “I have a dream.”’
More news from Turkey about Doukhobors.


  1. Eileen Kooznetsoff10 October 2013 at 08:15

    I read this story in Iskra with great interest and decided to visit the blog web site. I was very surprised to see the above photo yet you made no mention of our group's visit to Kars in June 2011.

    I submitted six installments of our trip "Russian Ancestral Odyssey" (Iskra Nos. 2051 - #2057). We travelled through the villages of our Doukhobor ancestors, including Kars.

    We were "heritage tourists" guided by Ken Harshenin who was the first to make a trip to Kars a number of years earlier.

    Ken's experiences were published in earlier issues of Iskra. I would say that he was today's Doukhobor pioneer in exploring the Kars Doukhobor roots prior to Florence.

    I met Florence after her trip to Kars at one of the USCC Doukhobor Union of Youth Festivals.

    I am so happy that Vedat's project has been funded as he appeared very passionate about the preservation of artifacts in the museum.

    We were fortunate to be able to bring him some items from the USCC Canadian Doukhobors to add to his collection.

    Please keep us updated on his project.

    1. Prostite nas. I added your Iskra articles above. Though I show your photo and names, we overlooked your extensive reporting and Ken's first visit. Thank you for commenting.

  2. Prior to my original 2009 creation of the Kars Doukhobor Google map ( and my accompanying historical map (, the specific location of the former Doukhobor villages in Kars was virtually unknown, and scholars such as Koozma and others wrote about this region only in generalities. There are several reasons for the longstanding lack of knowledge about these settlements.

    First, these settlements were relatively short-lived compared to other Doukhobor settlements in the Caucasus. The territory of Kars was only conquered by Imperial Russia during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. Doukhobor settlement followed by 1880; however, by 1899 the Doukhobors had largely left the area and their villages were resettled by Orthodox Russian peasants and renamed.

    Second, there were no living Doukhobor contacts in the Kars area during most of the 20th century, through which ongoing contact and communication could otherwise have been maintained. Of the 3,596 Doukhobors living in Kars oblast in 1899, 2,974 immigrated to Canada. The 600 or so who remained after 1899 were concentrated in two villages. They, too, left Kars in 1919-1921, when the area was ceded back to the Ottoman Empire following the Russian Revolution and First World War. From 1921 to present, virtually no Doukhobors remained in the region.

    Third, after 1921, the former Doukhobor villages, most of which had already been resettled and renamed once already by Orthodox Russian peasants, were again resettled - this time by Turkish peasants who renamed these villages with names of Turkish derivation. In some cases, these Turkish village names changed over the course of the 20th century.

    In order to create these maps, I utilized several hand-drawn maps and oral accounts created by Doukhobor elders (Boulanoff, Tarasoff) who had lived in Kars as children before immigrating to Canada. As useful as these maps were, they provided only the relative locations of each village to each other. The written account by Alexei I. Popoff in "Autobiography of a Siberian Exile" was also most useful in determining the precise location of Spasovka in particular. I was further assisted through the discovery of several Tsarist-era historical maps and monographs that confirmed several village locations. Finally, an aerial photo survey I conducted verified the location of these former Russian villages, which even today, retain their characteristic "street village" (Strassendorf) pattern, as distinct from the unorganized "cluster" pattern of surrounding Turkish villages. My own personal field research in the are in 2015 assisted in identifying the location of several Doukhobor historical points of interest.

    Since my original creation of these maps in 2009, I am happy to say that they have enabled and facilitated visits to the Kars region by several groups of Canadian Doukhobors (as a number of members of this group can attest) who were able to see, first hand, their ancestral villages, and in many cases, Doukhobor structures still standing in the villages.

    I wanted to bring the origins of this cartographic project to light because, unfortunately, my work has already been used by other writers who have provided no credit or acknowledgement for where they obtained their information from. The most glaring example is that of Vedat Akçayöz's 2013 book, Malakanlar, which contains an exact reproduction of my 2009 historic map, with my name in the upper left-hand corner expressly removed.